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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Filler Column

We here at The Friday Challenge talked it over and agreed to delay the column originally scheduled to run on Monday, so as not to take attention away from Sunday evening's announcement of the winners in last week's contest. Then due to circumstances beyond human control the Monday-turned-Tuesday column was delayed further anyway, so this is the hastily hacked together filler column, in which we will attempt to deal with a number of smaller issues collectively.

First: as to the Friday Challenge itself, it may be sheer egotism on my part, but it seems apparent to me that we had better participation when I was not attempting to evade my duties as chief justice. Therefore, I now decree a slight modification to the as-yet-unposted modified rules: while winners have the option to propose and present a future challenge (preferably, but not necessarily, the following week's challenge), this is purely optional and not a requirement. Furthermore, while everyone's input and comments re the submitted entries are read and valued (more so than you know), especially the opinions of the original presenter (if any), I will resume operating in my role as judge, jury, executioner (if/when needed), sole arbiter, final authority beyond which there is no appeal, and intermittent source of terrifying caprice and imperious whim.

Is everyone okay with this?

Second: in case you haven't taken a peek there lately, the shelves in the closet behind Door #3 have been partially replenished. What's listed there now is only about half of what's in-stock and waiting to be listed there, but this should give you something to work with.

Third: we've also accumulated quite a pile of review copies—these being bound uncorrected page proof copies of the sort publishers send out in order to seed and fertilize the astroturf. Rather than put these behind Door #3, we've decided to stack them on the floor next to The Assignment Desk. The stack isn't visible yet—it should become so by Friday—and if you see something there that interests you, you're welcome to take it, first-come, first-served. Here's the catch: if you take one of these review copies, you are implicitly agreeing to at least attempt to read the thing, and then write a column about it. (The column can be about any topic even slightly related to the book in question.) Fair enough?

Fourth: in response to Arisia's questions re the fair use of famous names, I was going to write a short column reexamining Al Capp v. Joan Baez. After looking into it, though, I decided instead to assign the Wikipedia article on Al Capp as homework. If you don't know who Al Capp was, or only vaguely remember him, this is well worth reading. Any guy who could argue that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was a waste of taxpayer money and Sesame Street actually makes kids less literate can't be all bad.

If you want just the executive summary: Al Capp was the cartoonist who for 40 years wrote and drew the comic strip Li'l Abner, an at times savagely satirical daily strip that spawned a large body of American idioms. ("Schmooze," "skunk works," and "kickapoo joy juice," to name just a few.) In the 1960s Capp introduced an annoying new character, the prototypical limousine liberal, Joanie Phoanie, a tone-deaf but fabulously rich and clueless folk singer.

Joan Baez promptly took umbrage, of course, and threatened litigation. I still remember Capp's defense, which was (paraphrasing from memory now), "Joan Baez is petite, brunette, and has a beautiful voice. Joanie Phoanie is tall, blond, buxom, and tone-deaf. If Miss Baez sees that image as a reflection of herself, she has some serious issues."

Hint: never attempt to try your case in the papers if you're going up against a master satirist. Especially if he's one who for forty years has been helping to sell those papers.

And finally, we get to the Fifth point: as longtime readers know, I'm addicted to 24, even though I know it's pure cerebral junk food. Last night, though, I just about blew Dr. Pepper out of my nose when it was revealed that the bad guys' dreaded bio-weapon was "fast-acting weaponized prion disease."

Tempting as it is to riff on the total idiocy of that idea this morning, I'll forgo the pleasure. Instead—well, okay, so it looks like this really is the final season of 24, as Jack Bauer has been exposed to and infected with an incurable, non-transmissable (!), prion-based bioweapon that is 100-percent fatal within 24 hours, which means the show has just turned into D.O.A. and Jack has but 8 hours left in which to save the world before he croaks. If only he could take Janeane Garofalo with him when he goes...

Never mind that. For some time now I've been thinking of another series I wanted to run here; let's call it, oh, "How to write fiction involving weapons and violence without sounding like a complete moron." (I'll come up with a better title later.)

Is there any interest in this topic?

Your thoughts and comments, s'il vous plait.

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